Ageism rife in social care ahead of planned legal ban

Old woman

Ageist assumptions about what constitutes a life worth living for older people has led to a discriminatory care system, a Department of Health commissioned study has found.

Older people’s independence was not seen as important by care managers, leading to tight eligibility criteria for services, which often stop older people getting the kind of low-level support available to younger adults.

Assessments of older people were found to focus too heavily on physical abilities and not on social engagement, the as yet unpublished Centre for Policy on Ageing study found.

Conditions seen as ‘natural part of ageing’

This was most serious when discharging people from hospital. Conditions such as depression and sensory impairment were seen as a natural part of ageing and community support was not well-planned, a factor in hospital readmission.

The CPA was asked to examine research evidence on ageism in primary and secondary health care, mental health and social care, to support the implementation of a ban on age discrimination in service provision, through the current Equality Bill.

CPA researcher Nat Lievesley said: “Social care is probably going to be the biggest problem we disentangle in terms of direct age discrimination.”

Discriminatory structure

The CPA found that the social care funding and organisational structure, which separates adults from older people, was discriminatory, resulting in access to funding being based on age rather than need.

Independent Living Funds, which provide cash for disabled people with care needs, were shown to be among the most ageist funding steams as they are not open to those over 65 unless they have previously claimed.

There were also big differences in unit costs for services, with home care for learning disabled adults costing £350 per person per week in 2007-8, and domiciliary care for older people costing less than £150 per person per week.

Mental health

In mental health services a direct comparison of age groups was complicated by the variety of conditions experienced among service users.

The group did find anecdotal evidence that moving between adult and older people’s mental health teams resulted in a drop in the services available.

The study said the National Service Framework for older people, introduced in 2001, was successful in eliminating most direct discrimination against older people in the NHS, but that gaps in social care remained.

The study will be published later in the year, but findings were released at a symposium last week.

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